Why Are So Many Christians Obsessed With Predicting the Rapture?


Source: Pacific Standard

By Laura Ortberg Turner

The world did not come to an end on September 6, 1994. Nor on May 21, 2011, or October 21 of that same year, though Harold Camping had said in each case that it would. As I sit typing in the year 2016, the world is still rotating on its axis, spinning 19 miles per second around the sun.

Like so many Christians who came before him, Camping was possessed by the idea of predicting the end of the world, and talked ceaselessly about it on his radio show at Family Radio Network, of which he was president. Listeners contributed to what became a $100 million campaign to convince the world of the May 21 judgment day (known in Christian theology as the Rapture), when Jesus would take all his believers to heaven. Like many would-be prophets, Camping moved the target each time he was wrong. After the October 2011 date passed, he just let it go. Even prophets can get confused.

Today, if you want to know how close we are to the world’s end, all you need to do is check the Rapture Index, a frequently updated scoreboard of 45 factors that point to the nearness of the Rapture. (A score of over 160 indicates it’s time to “Fasten your seat belts.” We are currently at 181.) The popularity of the Left Behind series and songs like Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” among certain evangelical communities indicate an ongoing cultural fascination with End Times and a willingness to help usher them in by proclaiming how rotten things are in the world right now — a key tenet in Rapture theology, as in life, is that things usually get worse before they get better.

Why are Christians so obsessed with the end of the world? Mostly for the same reasons Christians are obsessed with anything: It’s in the Bible. The Old Testament is full of terrifying, cryptic prophecies about the End Times: “The two kings, their minds bent on evil, shall sit at one table and exchange lies,” the prophet Daniel says. “But it shall not succeed, for there remains an end at the time appointed.” (Two kings exchanging lies sounds ominously like the plot to Game of Thrones.) Then, in the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples that “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory.” The Second Coming of Christ involves its own vocabulary; words like “Postmillennialism” and “Pre-Tribulation” get tossed around in End Times crowds like confetti at a parade.

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